Twin Peaks A Sap Opera
par Stephen Saban

David Lynch

L.A. - The Studio Coffe shop on North Seward in Hollywood looks as if it might have popped full-blown out of Twin Peaks, so excessively wood-paneled is it. But the reason David Lynch chose to meet there was simply convenience - he was editing Wild at Heart across the street at Todd-A0. It was 12:30 in the afternoon. David ordered from the waitress an appropriat lunch of tuna fish on whole wheat toast with Swiss cheese, lettuce and mayo, french fries, diet Coke with lemon. It was so in synch with the decor of the diner that it could have been whipped up by the props department.

"The decor is perfect," David said. "Itīs a woodsy kind of place. I really dig it."

Photographer Lex Remlin began a coughing up a storm and Louie, the colorful proprietor of the diner, suddenly appeared, bottle in hand. "Hi, honey," he said. "You donīt feel well? Iīll give you a brandy."

To please Louie, Lex downed a shot-glass of the stuff, and then stopped coughing. Louie, the diner, the coughing, the brandy, the sandwich. Maybe you had to be there, but it was all to Lynchian.

I told David Iīd seen the pilot for Twin Peaks and that it was the best thing Iīd ever seen, made for television or otherwise.

"Really and truly?" he said.

"Itīs like TV for the Nineties," I said. "I donīt think people are ready for it."

"Well, weīll see, you know?" he said, pouring ketchup. "I really like it and I think itīs entertaining. I think itīs a world that people would like to go into with characters that theyīd like to get to know and a mystery they would like to see get solved. And so itīs got a great, you know, pull."

"Would you say itīs a spoof of Falcon Crest or Dynasty?" I said.

"No. No no no. No. Not at all," he said, getting his point across rather well and almost coming apart at the seams. "Not at all. Itīs a real thing. Itīs not a spoof, itīs not anything else. Itīs just Twin Peaks. Itīs its own thing. And itīs a real thing."

"Okay," I said. "Iīve only seen the first episode, but everybody seems to be having an affair with everybody else."

"Like I say," David said,"itīs just like real life."

I laughed.

"What is it?" he said.

"Nothing. I just thought this was going to take longer. To get to this point. But you went right to...."

"Weīve had these interviews before, Stephen," David said, smiling. "You did my very first interview."

That was right after the release of Eraserhead, when Iīd tried in vain to get him to tell me how heīd created that unfortunate baby. Then there was The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet. (Dune doesnīt count; heīd rather not discuss the truncated mess that was released. "Itīs like a car thatīs been compacted," he told me during a subsequent interview. "Itīs still a car but you canīt drive in it.") Lynch has just finished shooting his latest film, Wild at Heart, based on Barry Giffordīs novel and starring Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe, which will be released this fall.

But the reason I was having lunch with him in this crazy little diner was Twin Peaks, the prime-time continuing drama heīs co-written, co-executive produced and directed for television, which ABC has slated for a mid-season replacement beginning in March. Itīs like nothing youīve ever seen on television. The story of the grisly murder of a high school homecoming queen in small sawmill town in the Pacific Northwest, it has the awesome beauty and elegance with that heart of darkness weīve come to expect in the work of David Lynch. Which makes it both appealing and appalling simultaneously. Snowcapped mountains, Douglas firs, plaid flannel, drugs and death. The cast includes Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Richard Beymer, Lara Flynn Boyle, Peggy Lipton, Jack Nance, Joan Chen, Piper Laurie and Russ Tamblyn. As the story develops, as clues are revealed, the seemingly composed and respectable logging community is slowly turned upside down, exposing its disturbingly sordid underbelly. Thereīs a two-hour premiere directed by Lynch, followed by seven one-hour episodes, one directed by Lynch, others directed by such auteurs as Tim Hunter, Caleb Deschanel and Twin Peaksī cocreator Mark Frost.

But who is Mark Frost and why is Lynch getting involved in TV?

"Markīs a friend of mine who I started writing with," David said. "Heīd worked on Hill Street Blues. We have kind of a mutual agent, Tony Krantz, who was trying to get us into television. Now, Mark didnīt want to go back to television and I didnīt want to go in the first place. But then we started getting these ideas for this thing, Twin Peaks, and started falling in love with this world. And one thing led to another and there I was up in the Great Northwest directing this TV pilot. And I really had a blast."

"You have an amazing talent for making us think weīre seeing more than we really are," I said. "I felt voyeuristic watching Twin Peaks, as if I were watching something obscene, although I wasnīt seeing anything that couldnīt be shown on network television. Itīs very very dark but I canīt figure out why that is."

"I canīt help you there," David said.

"I understand that none of the actors know yet who the murderer is. And today the last episode is being shot. Only you and Mark Frost know."


"If the actors donīt know who did it, isnīt it a little difficult for them to act?"

"No, only for one of them. The rest of them would just act the same, īcause they donīt know what happened. You know, when someone gets murdered around town you donīt act funny."

"Everything about it is the most amazing thing Iīve ever seen on television."

"Cool," David said. "Iīm glad you like it."

"I donīt like it, I love it." Was I too complimentary? I didnīt care. Unassuming guys with no attitude like David Lynch should be heaped with praise. But. "Iīm just afraid that people are going to turn it off after the first commercial," I added.

"Why?" he said.

"I think theyīre not ready for it," I said again. "Itīs true you have that dead body right in the beginning and the suspense builds from there, but itīs very slow and I donīt think people have the patience.... Theyīll switch to whateverīs on another channel."

"Thereīs a difference between slow and boring," he said.

"I know the difference," I said, "and I donīt think itīs boring. Iīm just talking about people."

"But we are people." He had a point.

"I donīt think weīre enough people, though."

"Um...weīll see. You know, I canīt argue with you. I donīt know the scene out there. I just know that sometimes if you get hooked into something, thereīs a mood and a pace thatīs very very pleasing and itīs not fast cutting that keeps you watching it. Itīs a mystery that keeps you, and a need to know and loving the process of knowing it. Itīs like sex and it takes time."

"Youīre a genius," I said.

"Well, bless your heart."

"Why did you cast Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna?" I said. "Did you know her or did you see her in something?"

"Johanna Ray did the casting and she tells me if people are good, you know, or not. So I met Lara and, see, sheīs my idea of the girl next door, the same way that Laura Dern was in Blue Velvet. Sheīs smart and sexual but has, um, high moral fiber."

What more could you ask for in a girl? "You know, we all need a little fiber in our diets," I said.

"Right, we could all stand a little more of that."

"Are you as easygoing a director as you are a person?"

"I believe that really good things can only come out of a certain kind of environment, you know, where youīre not afraid to make mistakes. So I try to make people feel comfortable so we can do something, you know, and I donīt agree with this kind of yelling at people to trick īem into getting a performance and that kind of crap."

"Twin Peaks seems quintessentially you," I said, "in that it has those absurdly innocent and funny moments, but is basically deeply disturbing. Itīs like youīre two distinct personalities. Right?"

"I guess so," he said.

"Would you say theyīre in conflict?"

"They live happily side by side," he said.

David had finished his lunch break, weīd been inundated with coffee and it was time to go. We left him outside the Studio Coffee Shop, squinting in the sun as he crossed the street for Todd-AO and more editing. "See you again when Wild at Heart comes out," I said.

"Okay, Stephen."

Lex and I took the San Diego Freeway north about thirty minutes to Van Nuys, where the last episode of Twin Peaks was being filmed on a soundstage off a highway behind a sign that said PUBLIC STORAGE. We found Lynch/Frost Productionsī publicist, Michael Saltzman, and toured the many sets that were sprawled seemingly everywhere. One minute we were in the Great Northern hotel lobby, engulfed in wood paneling, antlers and Eskimo art, the next we were in the Palmersī living room, sitting on the very couch where Mrs. Palmer could barely control her grief. There was a side trip to psychiatrist Dr. Jacobyīs oddly Polynesian/psychedelic office. I took a little nap in the jail cell where Bobby Briggs barked at James Hurley. In Dr. Haywardīs dining room I could see Lara Flynn Boyle and Sheryl Lee in dressing gowns, blocking a scene as their characters, Donna Hayward and Madeleine Ferguson, listened to a tape of the dead Laura (actually Sheryl Lee in another role) talking to her psychiatrist, Russ Tamblyn as Dr. Jacoby. On the tape, which could be heard by everyone on the set, Laura was about to name the person who was probably the murderer. "You know that mystery man I told you about?" the disembodied voice said. "Well, his name is...." I think I may have even leaned forward at that point. "No," Laura said coquettishly, "I donīt think Iīm gonna tell you yet." The entire assembled cast and crew erupted into laughter and applause. They had been waiting to find out too, apparently, and were as exasperated as I was. As you will be.

While we waited for Lara to come out of her hair, makeup and wardrobe, Michael told us some of the in-jokes that will make Twin Peaks a VCR-rewind favorite. The character of Laura was named after Gene Tierneyīs role in the film Laura, the counter-top jukebox in the diner is meant to remind viewers of a William Shatner episode of Twilight Zone, the art on the walls of Dr. Jacobyīs office is actually by Russ Tamblyn, Sheriff Harry S. Truman sports the same name as the sheriff who disappeared on Mount St. Helens, and so on. David Lynch, Michael said, is such a great director that he knows his characters so well he can tell you what they had for breakfast and what unscripted thing they did on the way over.

Lara Flynn Boyle

Lara Flynn Boyle, nineteen, beautiful and vivaciously poised, led us to her trailer, a gleaming Fifties Airstream bullet that actually belongs to her boyfriend Kyle MacLachlan. "Heīll lease it out to them and actually make money off of it," she said. "You know, itīs a good idea." She apologized for its not being properly decorated, that sheīd bought material with cowboys and Indians printed on it to make curtains. We settled in and she lit up a Marlboro.

I asked her how she got the part and she said, basically, "They needed a girl who would cry a lot. I was like, 'Great.'"

"Is this a part you really wanted because it was David Lynch?"

"No," she said, leaning back on the comfy trailer sofa. "I didnīt know who he was."

Okay, I was shocked, Iīll admit it. "You didnīt know who he was?"

"No. Well, Iīm from Chicago and Iīm not, you know," she started to explain. "Blue Velvet, all those movies, are very big and that, but I was raised very much more mainstream, like families from Iowa, you know. So I didnīt know who he was. After Iīd gone in [for the part] my agent called and said, 'Well, what is he like? Is he weird?' And I was, like, 'Heīs okay.' And she was, like, 'Were you nervous?' And I was, like, 'No.'"

"You still havenīt seen his films, like Blue Velvet at least?" The one starring your boyfriend?


Oh well. "How do you think Twin Peaks is gonna be accepted into peopleīs homes?"

"We talk about this a lot," she said. "They wanna watch ALF, you know, and The Cosby Show. Everybody out there - the cast and people I meet - keep saying itīs gonna go great, that itīs gonna get picked up. I think itīs gonna go great out ther with the twenty people who watch David Lynch in the business, that really respect him. He has tons of followers but I think that many of his followers are the ones who donīt watch TV. Thatīs why I think the one saving grace is that itīs also some form of soap opera."

"I hate to say it," I said anyway, "but I think itīll be a critical success that no one watches."

"Yeah, like Blue Velvt. What - number one movie of the Eigthies? I went to a performing arts high school and nobody ever talked about it. So I think in terms of that itīll be, like, 'Oh, great TV, very innovative.'" She took a drag of her cigarette. "Plus I think that TV audiences like to have cues when they should laugh and when they should cry. Iīm very much like those audiences. When I went to see the pilot - and Iīm in it - things that these people were laughing at I didnīt think were funny. When I say to James, 'James, those are sirens,' the audience was roaring. I must be stupid because I never thought that was funny, you know."

"Youīre working for a genius," I said.

"Yeah," she said. "Iīm starting to realize that as good an actor as you are, it also takes a really good director. If a director doesnīt have any relationship with me where he can, like, give and take, then Iīm going to stink no matter what scene Iīm in. Thereīs something magical. With [David], for the first time, I really forgot completely that I was being watched. Thatīs never happened to me before. I donīt know what exactly he does, and I think he does it so you donīt know what exactly he does for the actors. Shooting a whole scene for, like, five hours. I mean, thatīs me too, but it takes a good director to do it."

"Do you know who the murderer is?" I asked Lara. "Come on."

"I have no idea," she said innocently. "I really donīt."

I believed her. But sheīs an actress. "But todayīs the last day of the last episode."

"Letīs just say that every single actor - and there are fourteen other regulars - is a suspect. But a lot of us have a pretty good idea who it is. But, um, it ends differently than you think."

There was a voice at her trailer door: "Lara, two minutes!"

"Do you have to go?"

"No, I have two minutes," she said.

"Did you meet Kyle on Twin Peaks?"

"Yes, and we started dating."

"But you didnīt have any love scenes together. Youīre supposed to fall in love with James Marshall who plays James."

"Yeah, right," she said. "Itīs very funny because sometimes Iīll have, like, this huge kissing scene with James and, like, Kyleīll be sitting in the trailer like this, you know?" she said, impersonating a man in turmoil.

"He doesnīt understand that youīre just acting?"

"Oh, we do," she said. "I understand that, he understands that, but, still, I donīt like somebody else touching my boyfriend and he doesnīt like somebody...."

Just then, of all people, James Marshall appeared at the door of her and Kyleīs trailer. "Weīre ready to go now," he said.

And our two minutes were up.

Stephen Saban
Details, 1990.